Isabella Thorndike

Ashland High senior Isabella Thorndike doesn't know how to lose.

She has won all six of her alpine ski races this season and will attempt to earn her third straight state championship next week on Mt. Hood.

After a freshman year overshadowed by a dominant Ashland senior, Thorndike has been queen of the mountain. Even a bout with tonsillitis last year couldn't keep her out of the winner's circle.

"Just to qualify I had to go out there and they had to kind of push me out of the starting gate," Thorndike said. "I had to just kind of trundle down just so I could qualify. I think I won that one too though."

She got her initiation to the snow at a very early age. Her father Dan &

an Ashland High nordic ski coach &

strapped a young Isabella to his back for some of his nordic treks. Her passion for skiing grew from there.

"I started in my dad's backpack," she said. "So I would just be in the backpack when I was little and then I graduated to the sled and then I graduated to the skis."

It was at the age of seven that Thorndike had her first slope experience. Her mother Joan, a children's racing coach with the Mount Ashland Racing Association, taught her the basics. Once she got a taste of alpine skiing, nordic was a thing of the past.

"I remember that I was really, really scared to start," she said. "The first time I went I think I went straight down the hill and didn't really turn around or stop from there."

About a year later, she was sporting an alpine racing bib. She joined the MARA and fell in love with the competition.

Thorndike says she got hooked because skiing provides her a mind release that other sports can't offer.

"You have pretty much a minute-and-a-half of one run just to go all out and not think about anything else," she said. "So you kind of forget about your technique and everything when you're racing. You get to the bottom and just wonder what happened to you."

Thorndike became attached to Mt. Ashland over the years. She says the mountain is like its own community with a culture different from what she sees in Ashland.

"Its where I spend my winters, so its kind of like a second home," she said. "My winters, I'd never sleep in and I'd always go to the mountain on weekends and it just became something to do. There's something about skiing that's different than any other sport."

Although she is undefeated this season, that isn't the goal. Thorndike says the competition in Southern Oregon is low and the state championships is where she gets a chance to test herself against peers. She finds it difficult to judge herself before then.

"It's scary, but I like increased competition," she said. "Because then it's kind of satisfying when you know you're kind of up more on your level and you can succeed there as well. It's also exciting to be around more alpine skiers because Mt. Ashland is pretty much all snowboarders."

As she attempts to finish her high school skiing career on top (again) next week, Thorndike refuses to make a prediction for her performance. She makes sure not to put any undue pressure on herself because of all the sport's potential ups and downs.

"Its one of those things where you can't really go 110 percent on everything because you have to watch out for falling," she said. "Because at state, to win you just have to be really consistent every run and so you can't crash. The snow is always different and there's a lot of different things that can happen to you. A ski could fall off, you could just fall over yourself. So consistency is really important. You don't have to win every one to win overall."

Sports editor Joe Zavala can be reached at 482-3456 x 224 or joe.